Angela Rayner apologises for calling Conservatives ‘scum’

Labour deputy leader says she has ‘reflected’ and will no longer use such language

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 28 October 2021 21:22
Angela Rayner defends calling Tory MPs 'scum'

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has “unreservedly” apologised for remarks at the party’s annual conference when she described Conservatives as “scum”.

Ms Rayner said she had “reflected” on the tone of political debate in the wake of the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess and would no longer use such language.

The apology came as two men were arrested and another was charged and pleaded guilty in relation to alleged threatening and abusive phone calls, letters and email messages directed at Ms Rayner in recent weeks.

Ms Rayner, who has been away from parliament on compassionate leave after a bereavement, said that threats against her life had had a “devastating” effect on her.

She said that her staff were bearing much of the brunt of abuse, and should not be in a position where they were having to liaise with police frequently about death threats and their personal safety.

Ms Rayner came under fire after reports of a meeting on the fringe of Labour’s Brighton conference last month, in which she was quoted as saying: “We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute vile, banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian piece of scum.”

But she initially refused to withdraw the remarks, even after party leader Sir Keir Starmer distanced himself from them, saying he would “not have used” those words. She later said that her comments had been directed at “members of the cabinet.”

In a statement released today, Ms Rayner said she had “reflected on our political debate and the threats and abuse that now seem to feature all too often”, as well as on her own words at the Brighton gathering.

And she said: “I was angry about where our country is headed, and policies that have made life harder for so many people I represent.

“But I would like to unreservedly apologise for the language I used, and I would not use it again.

“I will continue to speak my mind, stand up for Labour values and hold the government to account. But in the future I will be more careful about how I do that and in the language that I choose.”

She added: “All of us in positions of leadership have a responsibility for our language and rhetoric, whether towards political opponents or anyone else in society, especially those already most vulnerable.

“As deputy leader of the Labour Party, I take this responsibility with the utmost seriousness and I am sure that politicians from all parties, the media, and others with a prominent role in our public life will also reflect on this shared responsibility.”

A court today heard that former delivery driver Benjamin Iliffe, 36, claimed that a threatening email which he sent to Ms Rayner was prompted by reports of her comments about Conservatives.

In the email, the defendant told Ms Rayner to “watch your back and your kids”, warning that he had obtained her personal home address and that “there’s so many people in this country now, after your poster boy murdered an Englishman, who are coming after you”.

Iliffe, of Chatteris in Cambridgeshire, admitted sending a threatening email, and also pleaded guilty to possessing a quantity of cannabis on Wednesday when he was arrested.

He was sentenced to 15 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and was handed a two-year restraining order not to contact Ms Rayner directly or indirectly, not to talk about her on social media and not to go to her office in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester.

During the hearing at Huntingdon magistrates’ court, a probation officer said: “He informed me that following the death of Sir David Amess MP, he felt angry at the victim who – he states – described a member of the Conservative Party previously, or referred to them, as ‘scum’. He reports that he felt she was making light of the situation and felt angry as a result of this.

“He stated he wanted to vent, and felt that somebody needed to tell her she was partially responsible for the attack following her use of language.”

Describing the impact of abusive messages on her and her staff, Ms Rayner said: “In the past I have been reluctant to speak out about the abuse that I receive because I fear that doing so will only make the situation worse.

“However, in recent weeks the threats that I have received against my life and the lives of close family have been so terrifying and explicit that I could not stay silent and simply continue to take it as ‘part of the job’. They have had a devastating impact on me, my children and others close to me.

“It shakes you when you get these threats. You worry about the safety of your home, your office and everything in your life. And it takes its toll on the people who work for me too.

“My staff come to work and do their jobs with dedication and professionalism. They bear the brunt of much of this abuse and then get on with their working day.

“Dealing with death threats and liaising with the police about their safety should not be a standard part of the day-to-day working life of a member of parliament or their staff.”

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